Can Deep Roads Restore Public Spaces and Limit Climate Change?
Cities around the world are trying to ban cars from urban areas as traffic congestion take a toll on our health and environment. Banning cars from urban spaces may make cities much more livable, but this is an especially urban-centric perspective. Banning vehicles from urban centers simply reroutes vehicle traffic that is necessary for commuting or commercial purposes further out into outlying areas, largely in poorer communities whose political power is not sufficient to prevent this change in traffic patterns.
To accommodate the increase in vehicle traffic on the roads, existing highways and freeways are often expanded, but this apparently simple fix doesn’t actually reduce congestion—it increases it, something economists call induced demand. Essentially, if you build more roads, people who hadn’t considered driving before because of traffic will start to drive more because of the increased capacity, which leads to even greater congestion.
If infrastructure expansion will only increase the number of vehicles on the road, why not just bury the roads? Rather than digging a traditional tunnel or highway system to alleviate congestion, Deep Roads can be built by removing the soil to form shallow channel a few meters underground that would serve as a roadbed, then prefabricated pieces built off-site could create the walls and the roof over the road.
This roof surface can then be used for electric vehicles, pedestrian traffic, or other open spaces. As an enclosed space, the vehicle emissions can be extracted, captured, and processed so they don’t contribute to above ground air pollution.
There would definitely be challenges in more urban areas with such a system, since the only way to use a system like this effectively would require replacing the existing roads, but also a very real need in those cities because those roads are fairly narrow and there isn’t room to expand the roads because of existing buildings.
Another problem with that is that nearly all of a city’s utility infrastructure, such as gas lines, telecommunication cables, and even power lines, all run underneath city streets like arteries, feeding off into buildings along the road like capillaries in the human body. All of this infrastructure would need to be moved further underground to accommodate a Deep Road.
The upfront costs of such a project make it a big lift, but such a system actually serves two important functions at once. By helping reduce pollution, Deep Roads can help combat climate change while giving the population back more of the ground level public space that it has lost to vehicle traffic over the last hundred years.
Such a system would work better for drivers too, since they could regain direct access to city centers that they are currently having to
If we are serious about tackling the challenges to health and the environment that gas-powered traffic congestion produces, then we need to think about systemic transformations, not piecemeal fixes. Whether or not Deep Roads or some similar setup is technologically feasible in the near term, its a plan on the table and the cost of building out
such a system pales in comparison to what it will cost us down the road as climate change turns into a global climate crisis.
This article was first published in Interesting Engineering to read full article click here